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Small Furry Animals

In the world of pets small can be beautiful and loveable.

RABBITS

RABBITS, symbols of innocence and life (the Easter Bunny) and playfulcunning (Bug’s Bunny), make excellent pets. If you’re buying a pair, makesure they’re not of the opposite sex: they breed S well, like rabbits.It’s a good idea anyway to have your rabbit spayed or neutered to make itmore docile and reduce spraying, chewing and digging.

Housing

If the hutch is outdoors, make sure it’s weatherproof: give it a cover forthe front of the hutch after dark and during wet weather. A 3ft orpreferably 4ft hutch, on legs, is best. Dampness is anathema to rabbits.Bed the hutch with straw or hay or clean newspaper laid flat and cover withsawdust. Clean it regularly, once a week should be sufficient, but morefrequently in warm weather.

Diet

Many dried mixed rabbit foods are available. If possible find out what theparent was eating and stick to that. Don’t overfeed bunnies. Two to threeounces of dry food is plenty for a medium size rabbit. Supplement this withhay and an occasional carrot and some green food (not too much). Rabbitswill drink about a quarter pint of water a day, more in hot weather. Anabundance of treats are available; they help to keep teeth from overgrowing.

Health

Groom the fur with a comb or soft brush. Take the rabbit to the vet’s fornail clipping when they grow too long. Crunchy treats, mineral stones or apiece of fruit tree about one inch thick will help to keep teeth down.Rabbits also benefit from a good run around – in an enclosed area.

Rabbit Hutch accessorieFood DishWater Drinking BottleToys e.g. the inner of a kitchen towel or toilet rollHay Rack attached to the side of the hutch clear of the floor

 

RATS

NOWADAYS rats aren’t restricted to people’s Room 101 – that Orwellian placewhere you are made to live through your worst nightmare. Today’s fancy ratsare descended from the Brown or Norway rat and can be intelligent and lovingpets.

Males are usually more sedate and will sit quite happily on your lap andwatch TV or just go to sleep. Females are much more active and playful. Norat kitten should be taken from its mother before six weeks old, the minimumage of weaning. If you buy a doe between six-eight weeks, check that she’sbeen separated from her brothers – she might have conceived during thistime.

Rat cages

Choose one with a base of hard plastic or metal, with wire bars about 15mmapart. The minimum size for a pair of rats is 60cm x 30cm x 30cm. The bestfloor covering is paper-based cat litter and the best bedding shredded paperor hay. Protect the cage from draughts, direct sunlight and any suddenchanges in temperature. Clean regularly.

Rat toys

Rats enjoy being active and are drawn to toys placed in their cage, such as:

wooden shelves and perches,wooden or metal ladders,ropes and swings, cardboard tubes and even lengths of drainage pipes can be suspended from thetop of the cage.

Diet

Special rat food is available in pet shops. Supplement this with treatslike wholemeal bread, non-sugared breakfast cereals and dog biscuits. Freshvegetables should only be fed every second or third day and only inmoderation to avoid diarrhoea and can include apple, carrot, tomato, celery,cabbage and broccoli.Rats also enjoy animal bones. Ensure that clean drinking water isconstantly available.

Diseases and careRats are very susceptible to tumours, especially in later life. Benign onesare generally soft to touch and usually harmless, even so, they can growquite large and become quite painful to the rat.Most can be removed successfully with the rat making a full recovery. Vetswill often charge the same for operations on rats as on cats.

Relating to your ratAvoid quick and sudden movements around a new rat and talk to it every timeyou feed it. If you always use its name when you feed it, it will soon learn to come whenyou call.Always sit down when handling a new rat so that if it jumps from your handit won’t hurt itself.As the rat becomes tamer allow it to have more freedom but always supervisewhere it goes. Not only can it do a lot of damage to cables but it couldalso hurt itself.

 

MICE

MICE are happy and playful, can get to know their owners and sometimes comeand take treats off you, climb onto your hand and run all over you. Bynature they’re timid, so spend time getting to know them. When picking oneup, cup it in your hand, grip the base of its tail and scoop it up – moveslowly and deliberately. It will soon learn to trust you.

Fancy and pet mice come in many different colours, markings and several coattypes. One common variety is the albino, with white fur, pink skin, andpink eyes. Pet mice usually live one to two years.

As with buying any animal from a pet shop rather than a specialist breeder,make sure you go to a good, clean, reputable shop. Ideally they should notleave the litter before five weeks.

If you get them too young they will be jumpy and hard to socialize at first.Mice like socialising with each other but males can be very territorial sodon’t get two of them.

Housing

Large, plastic or glass tanks are ideal – not hamster cages as the bars areto far apart. Place the cage out of direct sunlight and away from draughts.

Cover the floor in wood shavings. Use wool, tissue or paper for bedding.Mice love exercising on wheels and bird toys amuse them for hours.If you notice a decline in appetite, there is likely something wrong withyour mice. Keep an eye out for other signs of illness, includinglistlessness, difficulty breathing, or changes in the consistency of feces.If you notice that your mouse has diarrhea or a marked lack of appetite formore than one day, contact a vet experienced in treating small mammalsimmediately.

You can buy special food from a pet shop. Fill a water bottle daily. Giverodent treats in moderation. Dog biscuit will help prevent your mouse’steeth growing too long.

Mouse health

They can get mites, lice or fleas if exposed to animals with theseparasites. Some common symptoms indicating your illness include diarrhea,sneezing, wheezing, runny nose, scruffy coat and general lethargy.

 

HAMSTERS and GUINEA PIGS

HAMSTERS have been part of the pet world for a long time and come in manycolours and coat lengths, including dwarf hamsters (that look like smallfuzz balls and, because of their size require less food and water).

All are nocturnal, and the long hair varieties will need extra grooming butall hamsters, no matter what their coat type, should be handled ever day.

They need a strong cage that fits tightly onto a strong plastic base,ideally with more than one level and as large as possible. They are veryactive throughout their short three-year lives and should have an exercisewheel.

Supplement a basic diet of a hard food hamster mix with occasional treatfoods like carrot, celery, grapes, pear, grass, dandelion leaves andraisins.

Hamster health

They’re pretty hardy but so small that injuries and illness can quicklybecome serious. Look out for loss of appetite, inactivity, ruffled orunkempt coat, sneezing, discharge from the nose or eyes, wetness around thetail and diarrhea. Hair loss can be a symptom of skin disease or parasitesand warrants a trip to the vet.Guinea pigsThis children’s favourite usually requires little care. If kept in clean,warm hutches, and fed a varied diet, guinea pigs rarely become ill.Long-haired varieties require grooming, and all require shampooing three orfour times over summer to reduce mites. They are sociable creatures andlove company. Females can be kept together or in groups, two males may alsolive together.

They are usually kept in outside hutches. Make sure they have plenty of hayto burrow in and cover the hutch at night during winter to keep them warm.Put down some litter inside the hutch and cover it with hay. Guinea pigsare never happier than when they are eating.

They can eat a wide variety of food. Give them hay, dry food and fresh foodpreferably twice a day. They will eat almost any fruit or vegetable, butavoid potato; lettuce and apples should only be given in small quantities.They also love dandelions.

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